Journal of Information Technology

, Volume 29, Issue 4, pp 327–336 | Cite as

Is theory king?: questioning the theory fetish in information systems

  • David Avison
  • Julien Malaurent
Debates and Perspectives


This paper suggests that there is too much emphasis on the requirement for theory use and theory building in qualitative research published in our leading journals. We discuss six concerns that we have that relate to this high status of theory in such papers. We argue for what we refer to as ‘theory light’ papers where theory plays no significant part in the paper and the contribution lies elsewhere, for example, new arguments, facts, patterns or relationships. Some examples of theory light papers (and research) are provided from other disciplines and one exemplar information systems paper is studied in depth. We see these papers as equally worthy as those which demonstrate the applicability and predictive qualities of theory use as well as the potential of theory building. We propose a list of 10 questions that authors and reviewers might ask themselves when writing or reviewing such theory light papers. The more demanding role of the reader is also discussed along with the requirement for editorial teams to adapt. We suggest that the requirement for a contribution to theory would be replaced with the requirement that any journal paper has a high potential for stimulating research that will impact on information systems theory and/or practice.


theory theory light qualitative research journals author editor reader 



We are very grateful to Leslie Willcocks and Chris Sauer for guidance on how best to focus the paper, among other excellent advice. We are also grateful to reviewers of an earlier and very different paper for a number of very valid criticisms, which have given us important pointers towards this piece. Don Hambrick and Connie Helfat kindly responded to our emails and were very helpful and supportive and we thank our colleagues from another discipline. We also thank Frank Chan, our colleague at ESSEC, for helpful discussions. Finally we are grateful to Guy Fitzgerald, Nathalie Mitev and François-Xavier de Vaujany who commented on a chapter of Julien Malaurent’s Ph.D. thesis in 2011 which represented the end of the beginning of this voyage of discovery.


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Copyright information

© Association for Information Technology Trust 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.ESSEC Business SchoolParisFrance

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